Detroit Tigers offense masks pitching concerns

The Detroit Tigers have started the season 3-0, and that’s all that matters in the end. Some underlying factors are definitely cause for concern, but for the time being, Tiger Town has looked past those and quite simply enjoyed the moments of a thrilling opening weekend sweep of the Red Sox.

Sunday marked just the 2nd time in team history that the Tigers came back from multi-run deficits in the 9th and extra innings to win a game. The last time was in 1929. Something special is in the air, no?

It’s easy to find statistical goodness when a team pours in 26 runs over the first 3 games of the year. Austin Jackson looks retooled and ready for 2012. He was 8 for 14 (.571) in the opening series with 2 doubles, a triple, and some clutch hitting. The factor of keeping his front foot down has given him the ability to fight off pitches and survive late in counts. So far he’s been able to translate that into several 2-strike hits. We’ve known it for a while, but when Jackson goes, the whole offense follows suit.

And when the rest of that offense includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, well, that’s just plain fun. The damaging duo combined to go 10-23 with 5 homers, 9 runs, and 11 RBI’s against a band of helpless Red Sox pitching. They appear to be feeding off of each other’s excellence and forming an incredible bond in the early going.

Some of the more skeptical fans were concerned about Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta’s ability to repeat career years from 2011. So far, no worries. They are both 5-12 (.417) and have combined for 5 extra-base hits and 8 RBI’s. Avila already has 2 bombs to his credit including the dramatic walk-off winner on Sunday in the 12th inning, the first walk-off of his career.

Justin Verlander put the baseball world on notice Thursday with the best opening day start of his career. His thirst clearly wasn’t quenched after last year’s awards haul. Aside from JV, Duane Below has been the early pitching hero, running his record to a quick 2-0. Below only made the initial 25-man roster due to Luis Marte’s injury.

Jason Beck of provided this nugget: Duane Below became the first Tigers reliever since Paul Gibson in 1991, and just the third since at least 1918, to pick up relief wins in two of the Tigers’ first three games in a season. Tom Morgan was the third, doing so in 1960.

Despite all of the fun with numbers at this time of year, there are a few concerning issues that have cropped up from opening weekend.

First and foremost is the health of Doug Fister. He was placed on the 15-day DL with a costochondral strain, or a strained left side. In baseball, sides are tricky, and this could be no different. Don’t be surprised if Fister misses more than 2 weeks. The lanky one was looking like his 2011 self through 3.2 innings when the injury struck.

The Tigers were said to be looking at replacement options such as Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby. As is becoming his norm, Oliver blew it in front of Tiger scouts last night in Toledo. In just 3.2 innings, Oliver walked 5 on top of giving up 3 hits and 5 runs (2 earned). It is that inability to throw consistent strikes that tie him and Crosby together. The Tigers will scout Crosby’s start tonight.

Worth noting is that 5th starter Drew Smyly was tattooed in his start for Toledo, which is to be his one and only before getting the call-up this week. Smyly lasted just 1.2 innings and coughed up 3 hits, 2 walks, and 3 earned runs.

Adam Wilk did throw 5 scoreless in the Mud Hens’ season opener. His 1-hitter with 6 K’s likely didn’t go unnoticed by the Tigers. Regardless, the injury to Fister has shortened up the depth of the Tigers’ starting pitching in quick order.

It’s true that the Tigers put a premium on offense over defense, and so far that has worked to perfection. However, they did that knowing that their starting pitching was solid. With Fister out and Max Scherzer showing us the darkest side of Ugly Max (2.2 innings, 8 hits, 2 walks, 7 earned runs) on Sunday, there is legitimate cause for concern here.

For now, the Tigers can bask in the glory of a tremendous opening series sweep over Boston, but with one of the best teams in baseball coming to town on Tuesday in the Tampa Bay Rays, and a pop-up cloud of uncertainty regarding the starting pitching, things are about to get a little more difficult.

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  • Joe White

    Not sure we can say Smyly has been a disaster. Hasn’t had a start yet for Tigers. Anxious to see him.

  • iSportsScott

    Below should be moved back into the starting rotation in my mind- smyly, turner, and oliver have all been a disaster

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  • Rwhiteandson

    Basking in the glory. 

  • Drjaymw

    Max was a complete mess, that is for sure, but we have seen this before with him.
    Fister needs a chiropractor, and he will be fine.
    We have one heck of a scary batting order, and they are fun to watch! World Series here we come!

  • Rob White

    As long as Fister isn’t out long term, the pitching will be fine. Scherzer seems to stay on the two extremes of domination and disaster.
    Fielder and Cabrera definitely seem to be feeding off each other and having a blast.